This is the text from my sermon last week, entitled "What is Your Legacy?" The Scripture passage is Deuteronomy 32:1-12. Here is the link to the audio (a little different from the manuscript.) Here is the video we started with:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”
I wonder if this speech is similar to the one that Moses gave to the Israelites shortly before his death?
This speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. occurred in Memphis shortly before he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.
I wonder if Martin Luther King, Jr., I wonder if Moses wishes they had been able to see the promise land, to actually get to the Promised Land. I know I would have, but Moses and MLK had great a legacy they had set the stage for those that came after them to cross the Jordan, to enter the Promised Land. There was and is work to be done but these men left us with tools in order to face the stress and fear of the journey.
Today, we continue our series, “Spiritual Courage in Economic Grief” and this morning we tackle questions of legacy. What legacy do we leave in our family, our community and our world? How do we invest ourselves in others?
As many of you know my wife is very pregnant with our second child. It could be any time now, we’re hoping for a couple of more weeks but we could get to meet our son any day, which is incredibly exciting and also pretty scary. As a husband and a parent, I’ve started to think about things in a different way, now it’s no longer only about my wants and needs but the needs of my wife and the needs of my children. Sometimes I have to sacrifice what I want to do so I can be there for my family.
I also have started thinking about what happens if I’m not here, what do I want my children to know deep within them that will help them in their own journey. With that in mind I found myself in the office of a life insurance agent as Heidi and I try to plan as best we can in case one of us isn’t there.
I think both of those things are important, being able to provide financially for those that come after me, for my children, but also emotionally, mentally, spiritually provide for them the knowledge that will hold them up in their own times of grief, the wisdom that will guide them and help them to become leaders in their tribes when they are called.
All of this has caused me to think about what legacy are we leaving, especially in the current context we find ourselves. What legacy is our denomination leaving, what legacy is First Presbyterian Church leaving, what legacy are you leaving?
Will the legacy of the Presbyterian Church USA be one of bickering over who can and cannot lead worship or be one that stands with the poor and those suffering from injustice? Certainly, we have a long history of responding to the needs of those in need but will we be able to let go of our institutions and bureaucracy when they have out lived their effectiveness?
Our denomination will die, that is a fact. As the psalmist says, “You turn us back to dust.” The beauty in that is we get a choice in how to live, we will be guided by fear holding on tightly to our structures and our system simply because we have always done it that way or will we live by love, trusting in the God, who is with us, has been with us, will be with us no matter what. The psalmist also says, “You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed.”
In the morning it flourishes and is renewed. The hope and trust in the resurrection is what guides us to know that, it may not be easy, but it will be ok.
In this time of economic grief, in this time where it feels like we need to hold on more and more tightly to the stuff that is OURS, when it feels like we need to start developing strategies to shield ourselves and everyday on the news seems likes doomsday. It’s flat out terrifying.
It is precisely this time that we need to remember the story of Moses, the story of MLK, they had been to the mountaintop, they had seen the Promised Land and they knew, they trusted that we would get there.
If you remember the story of the Israelites, you know that under the leadership of Joshua they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, but unfortunately that was not the end of their struggle, they dealt with war, famine, exile, return, exile, and on and on, after they entered the Promised Land. It may not have been easy, but it will be ok.
I don’t know if MLK would believe we’ve crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land yet but I know he would believe there is work to be done. With unemployment at the highest level it’s been in generations, with corporations having record profits, with people taking to the streets to try and “Take Back America”, whether they be from the Tea Part or Occupy Wall Street, this certainly doesn’t sound to me like the land of milk and honey. It sounds to me like a land of pain and suffering, of miscommunication and anger, of hatred and fear.
I have a confession. I too have been to the mountaintop…literally; I have been to Mt Nebo, or at least where they believe it to be. I have looked out into the Promised Land and I have seen where we are going.
I have seen the Promised Land in the piles and piles of Kits for Kids that have filled this church year after year; I have seen the Promised Land in the hundreds of families who receive food baskets every year. I remember specifically three years ago. It was the first year we had a manger here in the front during Advent. The manger was overflowing with toys and coats and clothes. While we were distributing baskets, someone offered a coat to a child who was cold, then in what can only be described as holy chaos, the coats and toys and clothes were laid out, and those people receiving baskets also received a new coat, a toy for Christmas, a new outfit for school. No one took more than they needed and all left with smiles and warmth, both physically and spiritually. Was it what was intended? No. Was it what was expected? Certainly not. Was it what God had called us to in that moment? I believe so. Was it part of the legacy of this church? Yes.
I have seen the Promised Land in our students in the youth group; we are from 10 different countries, 5 high schools, 8 middle schools, including home schools and 3 churches. We have moved thousands of pounds of food in Los Angeles, we have ask questions about why things are the way they are and we have created space for all kids to express themselves to be vulnerable to shed tears to be real. I have watched a freshman sob while talking about his family situation to the group, while another freshman, his friend, with his arm around him gently holding him and letting him speak.
I have seen the Promised Land in our students who have for their whole lives been recipients of help become the givers of help. I have seen the joy in their eyes when they say, “I’ve never been able to help before, and this is awesome.”
I have seen the Promised Land in two of our college students who raised over $1,500 for an orphanage in Nicaragua in three days. I have seen the Promised Land in people welcoming each other and taking the time to listen to the answer to the question, “how are you doing?”
I have seen the Promised Land in the people that quietly give of their time, talents and money to organizations and causes they feel called to.
All these visions of the Promise Land lead me to the question. How will we as a congregation witness to the existence of a Promise Land, when it seems as if we are stuck in the wilderness?
Will we be guided by fear, seeking to maintain a death grip on the stuff that we have? A beautiful sanctuary, clean carpet, a big building
Will be open to what Jesus called the greatest commandment, “To love the Lord God with all your heart soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Will our legacy be that we died with the most stuff or will it be that we died, having lived our life sharing the spirit of wisdom with those around us? Reminding them that God loves them, no strings attached. Will be witness to the hope found in Jesus that it might not be easy but it will be ok? Will we leave a legacy on this town, on this denomination, on this world that we were faithful when it seemed impossible? Will we stand with those around us who are suffering, will we be a place for people to find refuge, will we lead the path through the wilderness of this time of economic grief, even when no one wants to follow and people are calling us to turn around? Will we have the strength, the courage, to continue to respond to God’s call to welcome all comers? When First Presbyterian Church is gone what will we have passed on to those around us? How will we show spiritual courage?
These are tough challenging questions. I think about them everyday I work with the young people of this town, hoping that I am able to impart some wisdom, hoping I am able to provide them with some tools to deal with their journey ahead.
A few years ago a sociological study came out examining the tendencies of the various generations in our world today.
The G.I. generation, those born around the turn of the 20th century, the Greatest Generation, those born around the end of the Depression, Baby Boomers, those born after World War II, Generation X, that’s my generation, those born between 1965 and 1980 and Millennials, those born between 1981 and 2001.
This study called the G.I. generation, a generation of builders, the Greatest Generation was a generation of maintainers, the Baby Boomers were a generation of destroyers, Generation X, my generation, were ignorers. In this study that means the Millennials are the next builders.
That means those people 10-30 years old are building things, they are building the structures that will be maintained by those who are being born today. These Millennials aren’t apathetic, they aren’t disconnected, they aren’t selfish any more than anyone else. They are becoming organized, they are doing work, they are building.
We see them on the news, in the streets, chanting, “We are the 99%!” We see them, returning to their faith, but not a faith based on platitudes and rhetoric, on big buildings and social status, but one based on living out your beliefs not just believing them. When I see these people when I hear their passion, and their commitment. It is a passion and commitment I see in you, in the faces in this congregation right here, right now. Young and old. I hear your stories I know your struggles; I know it’s scary. We have an opportunity to be the message of spiritual courage in the face of economic grief.
We have an opportunity to help; we have an opportunity to help this town, this denomination, this country build structures that will be based on faith and trust in something bigger than itself. We have an opportunity to model for them; we can be Moses to their Joshua.
It’s up to us.
It’s up to us to rally together, to hold on to one another, to listen to each other, to love one another…warts and all.
It’s up to us to provide the spirit of wisdom that will guide them to continue to risk in the face of fear, to love in the face of hate and to stand up when the world is telling them to be quiet.
Let us not be remembered by how long we are here, but how we were here.
And in the word’s of Dr. King, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”
May it be so.